Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are medications that relieve or reduce pain. The most popular examples of this group of drugs are aspirin and ibuprofen.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also come under the wider definition of non-opioid analgesics. This means they are a separate type of painkiller from opioid drugs (such as morphine) that are typically used for more severe types of pain.
NSAIDs are usually taken for less severe types of pain that result from various problems involving aches and pains.
They include some of the most common pain relief drugs in the world, used by around 30 million Americans every day.
Fast facts on NSAIDs
The following are selected summary points about NSAIDs – further detail is on offer in the article.
Many NSAIDs are available over the counter (OTC) – they are generally safe as long as they are used according to the label.
NSAIDs may be preferable for cramps, aches and pains, or pain problems involving fever or swelling.
There are risks in regularly taking NSAIDs over a long period, so patients should seek medical advice for long-term pain complaints.
What are NSAIDs?
NSAIDs include many common drugs such as ibuprofen.
Inflammation is the immune system’s response to infection and injury. Heat, redness, swelling, and pain are noticeable signs of inflammation.
The body receives pain signals from nerve receptors when inflammation occurs. These signals result from complex responses and interactions between cells and chemicals in the body.
Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce pain partly by reducing inflammation. People can use these drugs to relieve symptoms of pain, stiffness, swelling, and fever.
The painkilling action of NSAIDs reduces the direct effect of inflammation on pain-nerve stimulation and sensitivity, but also the indirect effect of inflammatory heat and swelling.
Examples of NSAIDs
OTC NSAIDs include:
Prescription NSAIDs include:
NSAIDs are a broad group of drugs from a number of different classes. Although their chemical structures are different, they have the following effects in common:
they reduce high temperature and fever
they reduce inflammation
they reduce pain
NSAIDs work by slowing the formation of compounds known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play an important role in the body’s inflammatory response. Reducing the amount of prostaglandins that are produced by tissue damage reduces inflammation.
NSAIDs block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, also known as COX. The COX enzyme helps the reactions that produce prostaglandins.
Blocking COX also interferes with platelets – cells in the blood involved in clotting. This is why NSAIDs have anti-clotting properties.
In the case of aspirin, this property helps prevent the blocked arteries that can cause heart attacks or stroke.
What are NSAIDs used to treat?
NSAIDs are used for three broad symptom types that occur in a range of conditions:
high temperature or fever